Juvenile Law Center initially filed an amicus brief in the New Mexico Court of Appeals on behalf of Rudy Barela. Barela was convicted in juvenile court and then given an adult sentence of 25 years by the juvenile court judge hollowing a post-conviction amenability hearing, in accordance with New Mexico law. Relying on Apprendi v. New Jersey, Juvenile Law Center argued that the statutory procedure deprives juveniles of their right to a jury trial and is therefore unconstitutional under the Sixth Amendment to the United States Constitution.
The New Mexico Court of Appeals agreed with Juvenile Law Center and found the statute in question unconstitutional; New Mexico appealed.
The Supreme Court of New Mexico reversed the Court of Appeals. Relying on the US Supreme Court’s recent ruling in Oregon v. Ice, the Court held that the sentencing scheme in question was constitutional because the jury historically played no role in sentencing a child as an adult and because principles of federalism precluded the application of Apprendi to the amenability determination. In dissent, Justice Chavez noted that “the Framers of the Bill of Rights would be alarmed to learn that a child can be condemned to an adult prison for up to a life sentence without at least the same constitutional protections afforded adults.” The dissent concluded, “[t]o deprive a child of the same jury protections afforded an adult is not equal justice.”